Food vendor is a business any woman that can cook can easily go into, if she couldn’t find something else to do. Food vendors seem to be springing up everyday and everywhere. You see them in offices, hospitals, motor parks, markets, schools, construction sites, and so on. To be honest, these people are taking away the customers of our restaurants.
I noticed that people patronise them without much qualms. Whenever I voice out my concern about the cooking method, quality of ingredients used in cooking those foods and the personal hygiene of the cook, people are always ready to ask me if I think our five star hotels are any better. So, I guess these food vendors are now competing with our 5-star hotels (lol).
But seriously, these people are worth studying to find out what makes them tick. But I’m going to list out some of the things I’ve observed that helps them to sustain their businesses, as well as the challenges they face.
1. Eligibility: The good thing about this business is that anybody can go into it – young and old, educated and non-educated, male and female, rich and poor. So long as you are ready to face the business, you are game.
2. Shop Renting: These people have the cheapest ‘shop’ whatsoever. Their ‘shops’ include tables and stoves under umbrellas, wheel barrows, push trucks and trays placed on the head. So, they literally spend close to nothing in renting ‘shops’.
3. Business Strategies: If you have ever wondered how these vendors manage to compete with the well established restaurants, here are some of the things I found out:
- a. The first thing everybody notices about these vendors is the cheap prices they offer for their foods. A full plate of food from these people ranges from N150 to N250. The equivalent of these plates of food in a small restaurant will be about N250 to N500. Besides price, the quantity of food served by the vendors is always bigger than that of our restaurants, even with their exorbitant prices.
- b. They offer credit facilities to their customers. Yes, some customers are allowed to eat and pay later. Some of these vendors even have registers of debtors that contain how much they owe, the days they accrued the debt, and how much they have remitted so far. Those that owe so much are usually asked to pay up a percentage before they are served.
- c. The use of take-away packs makes it convenient for passers-by and travellers to patronise them. The beautiful thing about this is that they don’t charge extra for it.
- d. Unlike the restaurants that have fixed prices for food, these people sell according the demand of their buyers. For example, you can ask them to give you N100 beans, N50 yam and N100 fish. Of course, the sauce is ‘free’. This makes it easy for their buyers to buy according to their means. This is one of the strategies that endear food vendors to their customers.
- e. These vendors take their shops to their customers. What I mean here is that they locate their businesses in places of needs. For example, some take their wares to construction sites, where they know that workers will need their services. Food vendors don’t station in places where people that need them cannot be found.
- f. For some reasons, the aroma of these vendors’ food is so arousing. It is as if they have special spices and seasonings they use. Trust me, no matter how hard you try, your food can never smell like theirs. Theirs is so spectacular. This is one way they invite buyers.
- g. One more thing I noticed about some of these people is that they sell food that may not be easily prepared at home. For example, in Enugu here, you commonly see those that sell roasted yam, roasted plantain, stewed beans and fried fish. It will be easy to roast yam and plantain at home. So some people buy from them because they want to have a taste of the food.
4. Buyers: Initially I thought that food vendors are only patronised construction workers and travellers. But today, cooperate workers, students and even housewives patronise them. According to one woman, instead of cooking when she is alone at home, she will buy from the vendors.
5. Starting up the Business: The good thing about this business is that it is not capital intensive and it doesn’t require any formal training. They just cook the food they eat at home, and nothing so special. If you observe these vendors, you will also find out that the utensils they invest in are few plastic coolers, plastic buckets, spoons, plates (usually stainless) and bowls for washing out plates. Those that have found spots to station their ‘shops’ can look for umbrellas and tables. Those that move around use wheel barrows and push trucks. But it doesn’t mean that all these materials have to be in place before the business kicks off, some do buy them as time goes on.
6. Challenges: Some of the challenges encountered by these people include:
- a. Dealing with the Weather: For you to be in this business, you have to learn how to endure all the weather conditions. They don’t run away from the scotching sun or windy rain. They just have to find a way to manage them.
- b. Debts: Some of them have problems collecting debts owed them by their customers. I’ve heard of customers that run away with their money.
- c. Harassment by Local Government Officials: I felt for one of these vendors when her food was poured away by some men from the local government authority, who came to collect dues. Some of these officials even carter away coolers of food and wheel barrows. These officials need to be trained on revenue collection; their methods these days are inhuman.
- d. Stress: Their job is stressful. They usually complain about the stress they pass through buying the food stuff, cooking them, selling them and going back to buy more for the following day. And they have to do this everyday.
- e. Shortage of Funds: The fact that the business is started with a little capital affects its growth. According to some of them, they use the proceeds from the business to settle family demands and other social necessities. This means that they don’t have much money to reinvest in the business, so they keep recycling the little capital they started it with. Some that couldn’t manage theirs well, end up spending their capital. However, the daily contributions they make (that is the ‘ajo’ or ‘isusu’) help them to raise money for some major projects.
Now we have seen why food vendors survive in Nigeria despite the presence of well furnished restaurants around. I believe that there are still some works that needs to be done there. First of all these vendors need to learn the importance of hygiene. I know that Africans are not afraid of diseases but we need to be careful with what we eat. Why I am stating this is because some of these vendors stay in very unhygienic places and sell their food. Some of their popular spots include covering stinking gutters with woods and placing their tables over them. Why their customers don’t complain baffles me.
Secondly, there is need for these vendors to be taught certain business strategies that will help them sustain and expand their businesses. Most of them remain in the same spot for years without expanding. The only thing is that they may be able to build small houses for themselves and raise their children. But those are not the only objectives of a business.
There are a lot to be done in this country. There are so many people that need to be reached and mentored. These food vendors are among them. Most of them are the breadwinners of their families and will need to know how to turn their small scale business into something bigger.
Our unemployed youths can also be encouraged to consider this business. All that is needed is for them to put their informal training in their mothers’ kitchens into money-spinning machines.
Honestly, there are so many things that can be done to generate income in Nigeria. Let’s start bringing them out so that our unemployed can find hope in the country.
Let’s keep the hustle real.